There is a situational ethic among many Christians today. It deceives women into exchanging God’s way for the world’s escape. It’s made its way into the most fundamental churches and schools, and it’s a direct assault on the Gospel. There is this idea floating around that if the man that you married, albeit a Christian, happens to be a world-class jerk, you are then licensed to divorce him based on the fact that he was not a godly leader…as if marriage was a conditional contract. This goes against the teachings of Scripture and specifically of the apostle Peter.
In 1 Peter 3 there is a picture of a working relationship between a wife and her husband. It is set in the middle of the apostle Peter’s letter to the church scattered across central Asia. But who exactly is Peter talking to in this passage? Some have said that Peter is speaking to all women in regards to all men, while other groups say that it is simply to Christian wives and their Christian husbands. But if we want to get what Peter was trying to say to his original readers, we have to look at everything surrounding it. Peter’s command is not one to a wife with that poster-perfect godly husband, no, submission there might look easy. Here, Peter is talking to women who are struggling with submitting to a husband because he is either unsaved or, at best, less than what he should be.
3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
What A Woman Should Be
Peter lays out several things that a woman should be and what she should not be. In verses 3 and 4, Peter contrast exterior adornment and interior adornment.
1. Not Adorned With
God cares more about who you are than what you look like. Christians throughout history have taught us that we should not be more concerned about outward beauty than our inward character. Biblical writers have all warned against such practices. However, there are some overly pious people or religious sects that take Peter’s words to the extreme and say that he is charging Christian women to not wear any jewelry or any fashionable hairstyles. But that’s not actually what Peter is saying here. There are three sets of external adornments that Peter describes, the last being the wearing of clothes. Surely Peter is not suggesting that truly Christian women will also not wear clothes, right? But if you are going to take the first two warnings as a forbiddance then you must consistently interpret the last one – the wearing of clothes – the same way. However, Peter is not focusing his attention on the negative external adornment as much as he is using them as a springboard to discuss what a godly woman should be adorned with.
2. But Adorned With
Instead of external adornments, Peter says what godly women should be adorning – “The hidden person of the heart.” This is a concept seen throughout the whole of Scripture. It is the person that God alone can see, and it is what God is truly concerned about above all else. Just like in 1 Samuel 16:7 when Samuel says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” The fact that the hidden character of the heart reveals itself in the outward actions of a meek and quiet spirit shows the fact that nothing is truly hidden. What is inside the heart will eventually work its way out into our outward actions.
The last word in verse four, costly or precious, is interesting when you look at the definition. Poluteles means being of great value or worth, ordinarily of relatively high degree on a monetary scale, (very) expensive, costly. It is an accounting term and implies that God appraises it at high value. Peter compares the value of gold and fine clothes with the “monetary” value that God places on a gentle and quiet spirit of a godly woman. Peter also draws a comparison of hair, gold, and clothes (things that pass away) to what is incorruptible and unfading.
What Women Were
After establishing the importance how a woman is to adorn herself in an effort to inspire her husband to godliness, Peter enlists the lives of several women as godly examples and living illustrations for what he is saying.
1. Examples of Holy Women
Peter backs up verses 3 – 4 with historical examples of women who you and I should seek to follow. These were “holy women.” This didn’t just describe what they did. It spoke of what they were, their position, called by God (1 Peter 2:9). They also “hoped in God,” a characteristic that is spoken of many times in this book. These holy women of the past placed their hope in God, not in their husbands, not in their circumstances getting better, not in their children or their families, not in financial stability, not even in a better tomorrow. No, it is clear that their focus was on the future hope that they had in God (1:13) and the fulfillment of His promises, and it resulted in this beautiful adornment of their spirit, a quietness and calmness.
2. Example of Sarah
Lastly, Peter focuses his attention on Sarah narrowing his point to one woman in particular. There is much debate as to which portion of Abraham and Sarah’s story Peter is referring. The obvious passage, Genesis 18:12 which is the only place where you read that she calls him lord, is argued about because of everything else that was happening in that chapter. Sarah was just told that she was going to bear a son, and she mockingly laughs at the notion of her and her lord having a child at such an old age. Because she does not come across as very respectful, and Abraham really isn’t doing anything wrong in this passage, scholars have struggled connecting the two and have instead connected the portion of their lives where Abraham was lying about the relationship his wife and he had by calling her his sister. While it is clear that would have been an obvious illustration of a holy woman who submitted to her wayward husband that is not the illustration Peter chooses to highlight. The text is clearly talking about Genesis 18:12. Plus, Sarah must have called Abraham lord often which was an outpouring of a continual respect and honor and submission that she showed to her husband.
There is one thing that needs to be addressed and made clear during this topic of submission. Presently, certain critics look at Peter’s call for submission in a hard relationship as him being supportive of the wife enduring under an abusive relationship. This could not be farther from the truth. Even back in the Greco-Roman culture, laws were in place that prohibited spousal abuse and any woman who endured this kind of relationship would not have been considered to be of noble character. So, Peter is specifically speaking of enduring hostility or persecution from a husband who is not living for God when his wife is living for God. Peter’s prohibition of domestic violence within the call for husbands to be gentle with their wives in proceeding verse (3:7) gives even more evidence to this truth. He would not charge the woman to endure physical abuse, and in the next breath, tell the husband to go easy on her. This is clearly not what Peter is saying.
So, what does it all mean? Can the woman who suffers harshly for standing up for Christ justifiably divorce herself from the husband she has covenanted to marry? Is there hope for her? First Peter 3 provides a wealth of information and support to the woman who feels as though there are no answers to her marital hardship. And what the Bible says on the issue is sometimes hard to come to terms with when you’re in the middle of a seemingly hopeless situation.
Yes, she must endure; she must submit; she must adorn herself with Christ-like characteristics rather than focusing on just the outward trappings. But at the same time, she must not be dismayed or fearful, for her hope, her silver-lining, is in God. When she stands before the Lord, she will never have to give an account for his actions, but she will have to give an account for her reactions.
Based on what the Bible says, my advice to this woman is this:
1. Be Biblical. Follow out the statues found in God’s Word. Live out 1 Peter 3:1-6. You will never regret obeying God. But you might regret following our culture that is saying, “It’s okay to leave him…he’s a jerk!” Remember: it’s not right to do wrong to do right. And if you’re married, you made that vow before GOD. HE is the one you are ultimately breaking a vow with.
2. Be First. You know the saying, “It takes two to tango?” Well, it’s not really about dancing. If there is constant conflict in your marriage, be the first to humble yourself and make peace. Don’t wait for him to make the first move, especially if he doesn’t know the Lord or has not been walking closely with Him for a long time. You be the first to admit your faults. You be the first to change your attitude.
3. Be Praying. M.R. DeHaan used to say, “When we work, we work; but when we pray, God works!” Never underestimate the power of prayer. Get your family to pray; get your friends to pray; get your church leaders to pray! Bombard the throne of heaven with intercessory prayer on your husband’s behalf, and then sit back and be amazed at how God works. He is the author and finisher of your faith. He is your sustaining life. He is your strong tower.
He is the One with the power to change a life, even the life of the world-class jerk you call, “Honey.”